Trent Reznor Comes Clean
Erstwhile "asshole" and "drug addict" Trent Reznor has
a new purpose in life: to destroy stupid
music. We join him in Texas to find out exactly what he, his
band NINE INCH NAILS and his
reinstated bosom buddy Marilyn Manson have against "Fat"
Freddy Durst, Kid Rock and Courtney
Houston's 17,500-capacity Compaq Center is home to the
Rockets basketball team and the
rock bands of the last 10 years.
Three boxes of corn starch powder sit alongside the
table-top mirrors in the Away Team
dressing room, which tonight is serving as a makeshift
wardrobe room. The Cure's latest album
'Bloodflowers' is in the stereo's multi-CD tray, alongside
Portishead's darkly atmospheric debut
'Dummy'. Five sturdy black flight cases of stage clothes
clutter up the room; pastel shades are
conspicuous by their absence, but there's no shortage of
black combat trousers, 'para' boots and
no-nonsense black sleeveless jackets. An Abs Crunch fitness
trainer in the corner adds to the stark,
utilitarian ambience of the room, the only personal touch in
sight being a Kiss lava lamp in a flight
case bearing the stencilled letters 'TR'.
At nine o'clock tonight, 20 minutes before show-time,
TR will call his bandmates around him for
a pre-show group photograph. As Kerrang! Photographer Scarlet
Page raises her camera, he will
issue one simple, stern instruction to the lanky musicians
"Don't smile," he snaps. "Don't smile."
Trent Reznor is ready to go to work.
Twenty six dates into 'Fragility V2.0', Nine Inch
Nails' first US tour for five years, the band are
"pretty much up to speed" according to keyboardist Charlie
Clouser. We arrive at the Compaq
Center as the band are finishing their soundcheck. The
relaxed air surrounding the hulking crew
members wandering backstage suggests that everything is
At 5:45pm, with the band and their soundman satisfied,
Trent Reznor strolls into the 'wardrobe
room' and greets us with a quiet "Hello", before sitting down
at the make-up table to have a bit of
'slap' applied for our photo session. Charlie Clouser, Robin
Finck and Jerome Dillon wander back
into their black curtain-draped dressing room. The only
missing-in-action Nails man is native Texan
Danny Lohner, who has just popped across the road to meet his
mum and dad who're in town
tonight for the show.
It's a pretty safe bet that the members' parents
weren't in the habit of dropping in on NIN's last
American tour. Joined on the road by Marilyn Manson and the
Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, that tour
has passed into rock history as one of the most excessive,
out of control tours since the 'glory' days
of Guns N'Roses and Mötley Crüe. I can't imagine that Ma and
Pa Lohner would be overly
impressed at seeing musicians spitting on naked girls and
hosting backstage enema contests,
episodes chronicled in Marilyn Manson's autobiography 'Long
Hard Road Out Of Hell'.
When I join Clouser, Finck and Dillon in the dressing
room, I casually put it to them that they've
had a bit of a reputation for indulging in on-the-road
debauchery. "Did we?" Charlie Clouser says
with a smile, feigning surprise as he raises his head from a
copy of gadget-mag 'Stuff'. "Er, you can
answer that Robin."
"We're doing different things now," Finck says slowly
and deliberately. "Last time out I
personally visited a lot of places I don't want to go back
Mr Manson has been very vocal in re-telling the story
of one particular incident from that
NIN/Manson tour - when Manson allegedly gave Robin Finck a
blow job onstage in Florida.
"Oh, Manson's quite a sensationalist," Robin sighs, the
mildest hint of colour reddening his pallid
complexion. "I wouldn't believe everything he says."
"But Manson does suck men's dicks," smiles Danny
Lohner, as he enters the room and slumps
down on the sofa beside me. "He's gay."
You think so?
"Oh yeah," he grins. "He would say something terrible
about us, so we should make up
something first as a pre-emptive strike."
"This tour is more like a bit slumber party," Robin
smiles. "We just watch movies on the bus all
night and we're like, 'Is this one ok with you honey?'."
"There's no drunken brawls anymore," sighs Charlie.
"It's pretty sad."
So if your debauched days are behind you why do you
need that box of Trojan Ultra Pleasure
condoms on the table in front of us?
"That box hasn't even been opened to put a condom on a
banana for a joke," Danny laughs.
"No one here's getting any."
I know the story about one British band in the mid '90s
who resolved that issue by sucking each
other's dicks. Apparently, when the road crew caught them in
the act, they said they were 'bored'.
"Our boredom," says Danny solemnly, "has never come to
Trent Reznor's bandmates seem like a laid back,
easygoing bunch. Everyone has lap-top
computers and portable studios on the road with them so that
they can work on new music
whenever or wherever the inspiration strikes. Charlie Clouser
spent the morning beavering away on
his semi-legendary Tapeworm side project - slated to feature
appearances from Phil Anselmo,
'Tool's Maynard James Keenan and Trent Reznor; "an ongoing
thorn in my side" according to
Clouser - he's currently trying to "chisel more of Maynard's
Brazilian vocal overdubs into a song
he's singing with Trent".
When I mention that there's little visible indication
of pre-show nerves in the dressing room,
Danny Lohner laughs and says:
"If I was Trent I might get nervous but nobody's
looking at me."
Despite Lohner and Clouser's integral roles in Nine
Inch Nails the pair have a very low public
profile. They insist they're happy with the situation.
"I prefer it this way," Lohner smiles. "It's difficult
for Trent to roll down the street in any town
we're playing because he gets recognised. God bless the fans,
but I'm sure it gets hard for him."
A lot of people in bands today crave celebrity status.
"Like him?" Danny smiles, opening a magazine featuring
a picture of Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst.
"Fat Freddy?" Charlie chips in. "No, I'm happiest when
I'm sitting behind a computer listening to
a half-finished mix rather than holding court behind a velvet
rope at a nightclub."
It's time for the band's pre-show dinner. And I've an
imminent appointment with Mr Reznor.
We shake hands and go our separate ways.
"I haven't broken a keyboard in six shows," Clouser
mutters as he exits the room. "My tech is
"I see (ex-Eagles frontman) Don Henley was playing here
last night," Trent Reznor notes. "The
first concert I ever saw was The Eagles in 1976. The
excitement of the night struck a chord with me
and I remember thinking, 'Some day I'd love to be up on that
We're back in the NIN dressing room. Casually dressed
in a black army surplus shirt and blue
jeans, Trent Reznor is sitting on a blue sofa with his
beautiful dog Daisy May by his side. With 90
minutes to show time, Reznor appears relaxed and happy.
For some reason I never thought of Trent Reznor as the
chatty type. But in truth he's an
engaging conversationalist, prone to rambling somewhat. A
simple question about his memories of
that first concert sends him off reminiscing about taking his
first drag of a joint, passed to him by his
dad - "not to promote my dad as someone who was forcing drugs
down my throat", he smiles - and
five minutes later he's still talking.
"In some ways I feel quite odd about the idea of 'The
Dark Lord' rocking out with Kiss, but the
ageing rockers still have a special place in Trent Reznor's
heart. There's that lava lamp in his flight
case for starters, and earlier his bandmates were groaning
recalling that recently their frontman has
taken to listening to Paul Stanley's solo album - an album
Clouser rates as "wretched".
Presuming that Reznor was a rather introverted teenager
I ask if, when he first got into music, he
felt that he had the personality to be a Paul Stanley-style
"I always liked larger than life, superhuman rock
stars, but I never thought I was that," he smiles.
"When NIN came out it was very anti-image, I just wanted to
be part of a rock band that was very
violent and passionate. I've never thought I'm David Bowie
and can command an audience, and
that's still what I'm least confident about today. But I
don't feel inadequate onstage."
So how comfortable are you with the idea of being a
"When somebody first called me a rock star it was like
a dream come true," Reznor smirks.
"And my ego reflected that. I went through a phase where I
was an asshole, and I treated some
In what way?
"Oh, by believing that my shit didn't stink and that
that gave me the right to be mean to people,"
he sighs. "I'd be throwing tantrums like, 'I said 10 black
towels, not eight!'. It was pure Spinal Tap
"As we got bigger I started getting real uncomfortable
with that 'rock star' tag," he continues.
"When 'The Downward Spiral' came out I tried to kill myself
on the road and basically
self-destructed, because I couldn't deal with being so big.
"And now?" he smiles, stroking Daisy May's sleek coat.
"Well, now I feel, not comfortable with
it exactly, but a lot more at ease. I've realised that
there's a me and a public me, where before there
was no distinction."
So right now Trent Reznor is a happy man?
"Compared to where I had been, yeah, definitely," he
says slowly, "but there's still a big hole in
my fulfilment level. After 'The Downward Spiral' I realised
that I basically have everything I want,
but I'd neglected everything about being a person in the
"People would ask, 'What do you do for hobbies?' and
I'd be like, 'Er (long pause)… go and sit
in the studio?' I realised I didn't have a life - it stopped
right before I got signed. I'm in a better head
space now, but I wouldn't say I'm overly happy. Thre's always
another good label to fight to keep
"We've really been abandoned by our record company in
the US. It's full of accountants that
don't know music from their asses. And apparently I'm not
moving enough units to MTV 'Total
Request Live' demographic, those 12-14-year-old kids. I mean,
who the f**k are they?
"I'm trying to make music that challenges, and I'm
finding fewer and fewer bands with any
depth. Music is reaching a level of stupidity that's stunning
to me. There's always a need for dumb
music, but we don't need any more Kid Rocks. Enough. And I
believe in 'The Fragile' and I want to
try to get the word out. This band might just make you
realise that Limp Bizkit sucks."
You're not a fan of Fred Durst?
"It's one thing if you know your place, like, 'Hey, I'm
an idiot who plays shitty music, but people
buy it, f**k it, I'm having fun'. But it's another thing when
you think you're David Bowie after you've
stayed up all night to write a song called 'Break Stuff',"
Reznor laughs, injecting contempt into every
word. "I mean, Fred Durst probably spelt the word 'break'
wrong the first couple of times.
"Fred Durst might be a cool guy, I don't know him. But
his 'art' - in the word's loosest sense -
Alongside Courtney Love, Billy Corgan and REM's Micheal
Stipe. Fred Durst is one of the
celebrities lampooned in Nine Inch Nails' latest video
'Starsuckers, Inc'. A cleaned-up version of
the vicious 'Starf**kers, Inc.' from 'The Fragile', the video
was conceived and directed by Reznor's
old sparring partner Marilyn Manson, who also appears in drag
in the clip. It's a remarkable video,
all the more so because lyrically 'Starf**kers, Inc.' is
reputed to be Reznor's acerbic dig at Manson
- the duo's relationship having been tempestuous.
"Oh, when I wrote the song he was definitely one of the
people I had in mind," Reznor says
trying, and failing, to suppress a smirk. "So he called me
and said, 'You know what, I'm f**king
sick of people asking if this song is about me, so I've got a
really cool idea for a video that'll just
f**k with everybody'."
It's a remarkably nasty video.
"You mean, it's weird to see someone with the balls to
say that some people are shit?" he
laughs. "We were just poking fun at that bloated sense of
celebrity and inflated ego among this
clique of royalty in America. It's like, 'Who are the people
you always see in that backstage photo
or at that film premiere', it's those, 'Look, see, I'm
important people'. But I don't have a problem
with Billy Corgan or Stipe or any of the people in the video…
with the exception of Courtney Love.
We had a fantastic time with the Courtney thing because
Manson and I share a mutual hatred of
So you and Mr Manson are big buddies again now?
"It just felt really good to see the guy again and hang
out," Reznor smiles. "I reluctantly missed
him. We were like brothers and I couldn't even tell you why
we fell out. It was something to do with
him getting some fame and both of us being out of our minds."
What are you memories of that tour with Manson?
"On a lot of that tour I don't even remember playing
the shows," Reznor sighs. "I got off the bus
after two years going, 'Who am I?'. That tour was really
about excess. I couldn't physically repeat
that without an oxygen tent onstage. We were all drug addicts
and full-on party machines and that
was one of the factors that led me to being in a very
depressed state at the end of that tour.
"This tour might read as 'tame' or 'old guys'," he
shrugs, "but I'm not bothered. We've only had
one day off in the past month, and where before that might
spell chaos, this time we went to an
amusement park. And you know what, I was like, 'This is the
best day of my life!'."
When you read this, the American leg of 'Fragility
V2.0' will be over and Nine Inch Nails will be
winding their way across Europe towards their Lost Weekend
gig in London's Dockland Arena. If
their gig in Houston is anything to go by, it's going to be
Tonight's show is spectacular, by turns blisteringly
intense and genuinely beautiful. With a
stunning light show created by Pink Floyd's lighting designer
and gorgeous slo-mo elemental visuals,
the music to which Trent Reznor dedicated five years of his
life is immaculately framed - and
dressed in their battle fatigues, Reznor and his (un)merry
men are unrecognisable from the calm
characters we saw backstage, throwing themselves into their
performances with a passion bordering
on the psychotic.
"Without trying to pat myself on the back too much, I
think the show we're doing now is pretty
bold for an arena show," Reznor says before returning to the
'wardrobe room' to get back into
'civvies'. "With 'The Fragile' I was trying to get out of the
corner I was boxing myself into in that the
music had to be harder and faster and more desperate. With
the show now it's…"
Reznor pauses and thinks for a moment or two.
"Well, you'll see," he smiles.
Indeed we will, Mr Reznor, indeed we will.
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is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously
located at SUS.